marcela levi


Felipe Ribeiro*
Rio de Janeiro
July 2021

Trembling With the Quake

Visualities must be freed from ocularcentrism. The quote by Fred Moten finds in Marcela Levi and Lucia Russo | Improvável Produções' new piece an environment in which to ensue. Here, phonic matter sets the ground. Or better yet, it sets the grrRoUNd, a word that turns speaking into stuttering, resting on the consonant until it unevenly cracks the word. Written c h ãO in Portuguese, both graphic marks are meant to be vocally embodied, twisting the act of translation. The low guttural sound of the English title meets the pitchy whistle of Portuguese phonetics. One cracks, the other blows, two movements that inform the piece and turn the signifiers complementary of one another.

What else cracks beyond words? There cracks the space as a continuum in time. There cracks the limits dividing concreteness from abstractions. There cracks also our geometrical sense of location, allowing for the geological to emerge. Contrary to all metaphors of fixity that we may devote to it, a ground is not a given. Its not simply an opaque raw matter waiting to be utilized, but rather sediments of conditions, produced by how volumes and scales are worked through, how it accommodates its tectonics, how it generates strata as constant negotiations of matter that adhere and resist to one another, how it undergoes accidents, how it becomes a sum of all that happens to it. In addressing this perspective, history becomes embedded in the ground, therefore leaving its disciplined linearity in the form of a much wider, mobile terrain, in surface and depth. This approach to the grrRoUNd detaches fact from chronologic constitution, and endures a plane of multiple temporalities. That's the case with sound in the piece, where bits and beats are stretched, juxtaposed, and overlapped to one another in a track that mixes recordings, live music, and the sound of silence. Meanwhile performers carry on each in their own rhythmic track. Some of their movements are marked by endurance, others by consistent repetition. If in other situations these options would appeal to a sense of constancy that would accustom the eyes of the viewer, I suggest here instead that duration stretches the dramaturgical tissue tearing holes from within which unexpected material may erupt at any moment. Unstable from the start, grrRoUNd acts as an elastic field that opens pockets of contents that often risk becoming larger than the whole.

Within malleability and in order to nurture it, performers have their tasks to breathe through the breaches, and to see beyond sight, perhaps by evocation. Thats how the imaginary is set in orbit, sensorial states are projected onto the audience, citations persevere as short blinks. A concatenation of materials diagrammed in such ways that prioritize matter and affection before (and invariably) reworking meaning. Such an assemblage makes me think of score as an insufficient denomination for what they perform. Rather, they seem to enact sampling as a practice, one that teethers each solitary work in a collection of actions. The same gesture that crafts the sonic material, embodies and energizes the dancers. Indeed, sampling is an act that carries interesting ethics of refreshed unoriginality. Fragmented preexisting materials are administered as not to obliterate their source but to allow other entrances into it. Not by chance, politics is in debt to dance and still has a lot to learn from music. I wonder if I could define a sampler as the device of an impossible act of reworking history through rhythm. While remaining impossible, it materializes in grrRoUNd and its incessant sampling where each fragment is a potential refraction to the whole.

That's because in grrRoUNd, matter is presented neither as raw, nor as historical, but as ghostly. Many phantoms accompany the performers. "There are spirits everywhere. They are all around us", we are informed. Its hard to notice the lack of touch among the dancers and not think of it as a consequence - due to care and respect - of hundreds of thousands of lives lost, worldwide and severely in Brazil. While these absences are indisputably present, others must be evoked to rip in the scene. Those apparitions are not exclusively human, nor necessarily deceased, most often they refer to facts, acts, moments, gestures, events, phenomena, and epiphenomena conveyed in Brazilian Funk, street carnival, silent films and musicals, jazz, R&B, shamanism, and vogueing, to name a few.

In filling in the space with ghosts, the performers sense of presence becomes as much embedded in phantasmagory. Vision fails in fully grasping what is present, partially due to non-reactionary behavior. Although their senses are deemed perceptive, they render externally unavailable how each dancer is affected by the other. Such restraint creates a general sense of disparity, wherein every dancer functions as a channel that absorbs the immediate, and delivers back the mediated. Disparity turns their shared task less to conceive a common ground than to hold together the gaps, making grrRoUNd a rather ventilated sum of collective forces, generative of suspension, circulation, depth of field, rhythm, vibration, awe, awareness, and the common agreement to not sink in. Perhaps that's when the cracking finds the blow.

Visuality also becomes responsible for the acknowledgement of the concrete space spectators occupy in the theater. There where audience" and "spectatorship" confounds sight and sound, our presence and wit seems to work as a connecting vortex relinking the performers from across the stage. We are then forced into the recognition of our position in this scopic architecture, and its latent powers. It becomes hard to rest being into evidence. Whatever comes to us is not delivered as a gift, but as an action sustained by our collaboration, which is nothing if not the awareness of being present. Likewise, stage frontality becomes less an artifice than a critique. At some point dynamic gestures of ending musical numbers last just enough to have the scene oscillate from entertainment to urgency (and, then, back to entertainment, and back to urgency, ...) nevertheless, we as collaborating witnesses are granted no privileged access. There's a lot that unfolds and remains unavailable to the audience, like the soundtrack on the ears of a black performer, which reminds us of the "public secrets" that sustain certain operations of Blackness, and even actions happening offstage. All these restrictions are, perhaps, the necessary unrest that will make us stutter at the word sp p pPeccc tAttt or - and in deeming it unfamiliar, we may just wield other imaginative forms of visualities.

*Felipe Ribeiro is a video and performance artist, founder of Atos de Fala Festival, and Associate Professor in the Dance Studies M.A. Program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.